Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

23 July 2010

I Love Tristan Tzara

Today I finished a book that collects all of Tristan Tzara's poems in a single volume called Chanson Dada. It's a fabulous little book and it gives real insight, not only into Tzara's ability as a poet – if you only think of him as an opportunist or a cheerleader, reading his poems will disabuse you of this belief instantly – but also tracks the trajectory of his work: as a Dada, as a surrealist, as an anti-war Marxist.

I love his nonsense poems, of course, particularly because they are precisely not nonsense. Some of his poetry is very sad, of course, being anti-war, but some of it also very funny. Take the following, for example, from "The Seaman":

manhattan there are buckets of shit in front of you
mbaze mbaze bazebaze mleganga garoo
you flow quickly into me
kangaroos in the boat's entrails
wait I'm first going to put my impressions in order
the seated trippers lace at the water's edge
thrust your fingers in the sockets so that the light bursts like grenades

There is so much there!

Some of the poetry displays real unadorned grief, as well, as in "The Death of Guillaume Apollinaire":

we know nothing / we knew nothing of grief / the bitter season of cold / carves long scars in our muscles / he would have sooner loved the joy of victory / wise with quiet sadnesses / caged / can do nothing
And then check out this poem, called "Dada Song":
the song of a dadaist
who had dada in his heart
so over-taxed his ticker
that had dada in its heart

the elevator carried a king
weighty brittle independent
he cut off his long right arm
sent it to the pope in rome

that's why
the elevator
no longer had dada in its heart

eat chocolate
wash your brain
drink water

the song of a dadaist
who wasn't glad wasn't sad
and was in love with a lady cyclist
who wasn't glad wasn't sad

but the husband on new year's day
knew all and in a fit
dispatched to the vatican
their two bodies in three suitcases

neither the lover
nor the lady cyclist
were glad or sad any longer

eat excellent brains
wash your soldier
drink water

the song of a cyclist
who was dada-hearted
who was then a dadaist
like all the dada-hearted

a snake was wearing gloves
he quickly shut the valve
popped on some snake skin gloves
and came and kissed the pope

it's touching
belly in flower
no longer had dada in its heart

drink bird milk
wash your chocolates
eat veal

I honestly laughed out loud when I read this last one.

22 July 2010

I Am Love

Before catching I Am Love (Io Sono l'Amore) – about which I had been excited for weeks – I had never seen a Luca Guadagnino movie. I guess this should not come as much of a surprise. I have never even heard of any of these movies before, and – let's not lie – I've heard about a lot of movies.

I Am Love is, of course, intriguing first of all because it involves Tilda Swinton, and because it involves Tilda Swinton speaking Italian. I Am Love is also a food movie. Swilda falls in love with her son's friend because he is an excellent chef, so the moment of falling in love happens over a plate of prawns.

The movie is a lot of things. Let me say first that this is totally an art film, by which I mean this: I Am Love's most distinguishing feature is that the score is almost entirely the music of John Adams. Adams has not made many film scores, and there is a reason for this. This reason is the same reason that not a lot of films have been made with, say, the music of Steve Reich. Oddly, though, I found Adams' music very compelling for the film.

I Am Love is also shot in a very distinct way. I found the look of the film very similar to The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which I think was probably a conscious choice on Guadagnino's part. There are a lot of odd aerial shots. It looks really cool.

The film's subject matter on the other hand, struck me as very conventional. It is the old, old, old story of a woman's (re?)awakening as she falls in love (sort of) with a younger man and begins an affair with him that points up just how unhappy she is with her life. This affair – and the woman's new dissatisfaction with her life – makes clear the corruption or the decadence of the society in which she lives. This realization happens for both the woman and the audience. It isn't exactly the most novel of plotlines.

But the filmmaking is just so interesting in I Am Love. The filmmaker's love of food is evident. The fashion is incredible. And the music, as I mentioned, is fascinating. How Guadagnino uses Adams' music is interesting. I Am Love is slow; it takes its time with plot, character, theme, all of it. And it certainly does not work the whole time – as I said, the plot is far more conventional than it ought to be – but I Am Love is always intriguing. There is always something cool to look at. Surprises are always occurring.

Also, the end. I love a good ending, and I have to say that I Am Love's ending is really, really awesome. And again, this is mostly to do with the fascinating score by Adams.

Anyway, I think this is worth checking out if you are into slow cinema. It doesn't always work as well as it wants to, but it's got some great stuff in it.

15 July 2010

Sus Ojos

Yesterday I continued my streak of screening movies by myself in empty theatres when my friend Sean ditched me and I ended up seeing Juan José Campanella's The Secret in Their Eyes by myself.

I had assumed that the title meant that the movie was going to be a story about lost childhood. I think I was imagining Secretos del Corazón or La Bestia nel Cuore or something like that. But no. The Secret in Their Eyes is not even really that similar to Campanella's other big film, Son of the Bride (which I also liked). If The Secret in Their Eyes is like any recent film, it is comparable to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others.

The Secret in Their Eyes is a mystery, a kind of memory-drama where the protagonist tries to piece together the events that happened to him many years previous. The whole thing is a fascinating puzzle and while I couldn't always decide if I thought I had figured something out, the narrative is told in such a way that it never feels manipulative, as if the filmmaker is deliberately keeping things from the audience. Instead, we remember as the protagonist remembers. We learn as he pieces things together; we solve puzzles as he solves them. The end of this film is so surprising, so well done, and so earned, that right before the big reveal I was positive the reveal was going to be something else altogether.

Argentinian superstar Ricardo Darín (Nine Queens, The Aura, Son of the Bride) plays the lead. Darín is like the Argentinian George Clooney, so I can't really comment on his acting. He is very good, but it's a movie-star part, you know? My favorite performances in the film are Pablo Rago, who plays the husband of the murdered woman, and Guillermo Francella, who is outstanding as Darín's alcoholic investigative partner. Soledad Villamil is also excellent as Darín's love interest. There is a fantastic interrogation scene with Darín and Villamil where she just stuns you.

You will not want to miss this picture. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture this year (2010), so it won't be eligible for any other awards next year, but it won the award for a reason. This is a great movie.

11 July 2010

Mother and Child

I was a huge fan of Rodrigo García's 2005 film Nine Lives, so it was with quite a bit of anticipation that I sat down for a screening of his newest movie, Mother and Child. I got precisely what expected, and that is a very good thing. Mother and Child is contemplative and quiet, filled with fascinating characters, lots of nuanced relationships, and intelligent philosophy.

Mother and Child is three interwoven stories: a middle-aged woman (Annette Bening) who was forced to give her daughter up for adoption because she was only fourteen when she gave birth; the daughter herself (Naomi Watts), who is now a talented lawyer; and young woman who cannot have children but is trying to adopt. The stories connect only tangentially and plot elements while numerous, are never focal. The movie is, instead, always about something, even though you are not always sure where the plot per se is headed.

The acting is superb across the board. Bening is particularly good—her precision is terrific—but Watts and Washington are also excellent and both roles are incredibly challenging. The supporting cast (and this was true of Nine Lives, as well) is also really wonderful. Samuel L. Jackson, Cherry Jones, Jimmy Smits, Elpidia Carrillo, Shareeka Epps (love her), Marc Blucas, and LisaGay Hamilton round out the cast, with perhaps my favorite supporting turn coming from the always good S. Epatha Merkerson, who has a third-act monologue that she knocks out of the park.

I should be clear that Mother and Child, as should probably be evident from the title, is a meditation on motherhood and parenting. The film, therefore, does tend to be a little more about, well, breeding than I am usually into. (Lee Edelman would scold me.) But Mother and Child is so beautiful, and so much bigger than motherhood or heterosexuality that I forgave it. This might be because the film is also mostly about women and, therefore, the focus is on single motherhood, rather than some kind of nuclear heterosexual family.

At any rate, Mother and Child is definitely worth your time, particularly if you (like so many of my friends) have mommy issues. (That last sentence was said with a wink, y'all.)

09 July 2010


One of the coolest things I've read so far on my comp lists is the book 4 Dada Suicides, which is a weird little text, to be honest. It is a collection compiled by a couple of different people, so it has an odd structure. The ostensible authors are four gentlemen—Arthur Cravan, Jacques Rigaut, Julien Torma, and Jacques Vaché—who are all dead, and in fact, who specifically intended not to leave a legacy.

As I said, it is an odd text. So the book is divided into four sections, each section concerns one of the above men. Each section has a biographical sketch of some kind, followed by original texts by the authors themselves, and finished with a testimony of some kind from a contemporary of the man. Some of the testimonies are sparse indeed. Others are written by famous people. (Vaché's is written by his sweet sweet bestie, André Breton, for example, and Cravan's is written by Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia.)

Before reading this book I knew a bit about Jacques Rigaut and a bit more about Arthur Cravan (who was, after all, Oscar Wilde's nephew), but my discovery in 4 Dada Suicides was Julien Torma. I knew his biographical details before the book, but I guess I hadn't read enough of his writing to fall in love with him before. He is astounding! Absolutely wonderful. I find him courageous and stunning and rather unforgiving; perilous, scary, a bit merciless, even.

He has a rather voluminous collection of short sentences or paragraphs called Euphorisms, and this book is filled with extraordinary insights and emptinesses. Torma was a nihilist, an incredible cynic, but also cynicism's opposite (and nihilism's opposite?). In this book, almost everything is simultaneously its own opposite.

At any rate, here are some of his euphorisms. Some are very short, some are a bit longer. Take them for what they are. It seems to me that Torma meant them as musings, questions, and nothing more:

Thought involves a little charlatanism. / It is not natural to think: one must create a veritable stage-setting out of oneself and things, not to mention the inevitable artificial device of reasoning ... Without these shams, thought is no more than naïveté (banging on about the obvious) and, basically, stupidity.

The reflexes of life persist for some time among the guillotined. — So? — That ought to "console" you, since you feel the need to survive...

"...Regarding those who are saddened by the inevitable necessity of death, let them be consoled by the promise of a future immortality."
But those it does not sadden?

Man is an onion, the noblest there is in nature, but a peeling onion — like any other.
A skin? You don't know how right you are.
But, if you remove it, you'll find another, and another ... down to the void at the centre (that's not all that large, either). 
Let's weep, let's weep,
My crocodile brothers.

I don't know whether there are numbers. And you?

Living is a kind of hide-and-seek. In seeking out ideas, men, and oneself, one reckons to have a pretext for not getting lost or, at all events, in the masked ball in which we are carried along, to find one's clothes again in the cloakroom.

Beauty is an excess: not to be confused with perfection, which is only average.

To shut up poetry in the poem is to prevent it penetrating into life. Let's not write anything any more. The poet of tomorrow will be unaware of the very name of poetry.

08 July 2010

When You're Too Drunk to Know What You're Saying

Michael: Hey, has anyone by any chance heard of this kid's movie called Finding Nemo?
Walter: ...
Geoff: ...
Susan: ...
Bryce: ...
Aaron: Are you serious?

Frontiers Are All Around Us

Check out this absolutely gorgeous Levi's commercial directed by John Hillcoat, who directed last year's The Road (which nobody saw, but which was beautiful, nonetheless):

Read, Read, Read Part V

A couple of thoughts before I tell you what I've been reading:
  1. I am trying out a new Amazon thing which does links and images and stuff. We'll see how well it works.
  2. I am not too behind on my reading, but I am not exactly racing through these lists, either.
  3. According to my tallies, I am 28% done with the Critical Race Theory list and 27% done with the Parisian Avant-garde list. While I am 47% done with my Early Modern England reading list, I am only 21% finished with my Violence list. Sigh. Overall I am okay, but this is way out of balance.
The Duchess of Malfi (Arden Early Modern Drama)So, since the last time I posted, I have read:

John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. I am still touting these amazing Arden editions that are just coming out. They are amazing for anyone interested in Early Modern drama. This particular edition, for instance, includes a comprehensive performance history of the play as well as absolutely invaluable textual help. As I read other editions of these plays, their poverty in comparison with the Arden editions is most evident.

Also, I have decided I absolutely love John Webster. I unequivocally loved Malfi and after also reading his The White Devil, which was also on my Early Modern list, I am completely sold. He is so good. The plays are cruel and exciting and have really extraordinary female characters.

Thomas Middleton and William Rowley's The Changeling is less interesting, more straightforward, and has a kind of tidy moral at the end that I found boring and trite. Compared to the two awesome Webster plays, The Changeling was downright boring. Way less intrigue and fewer twists. I am loving this Early Modern Drama list, by the way. These plays are so exciting! I know they are four hundred years old, but they are eminently playable. As playable as Hamlet, and I mean that honestly.

I also recently finished Sharon P. Holland's Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity, which I liked at the beginning, but which became less theoretical (and less interested in death) as it went on. On the other hand, I raced through José Esteban Muñoz's Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, which, in addition to being a very easy and exciting read (such a good writer, that Muñoz!), is justly famous for its accessible and flexible theoretical approach to subjectivity.

I did some reading on the other two lists while I was in Virginia over the last two weeks, but there is more to say about that reading, and so I will postpone that blog for another day.